An overlooked bondage

June 29, 2010 at 3:52 pm (Uncategorized)

“If you were in my place would you chuck the whole thing?”

“What do you mean?”

“I wonder if it’s worth being a second-rate painter. You see, in other things, if you’re a doctor or if you’re in business, it doesn’t matter so much if you’re mediocre. You make a living and you get along. But what is the good of turning out second-rate pictures?”

It seems that sometimes God (or Fate, or whatever) throws in some clever little reminder that things aren’t entirely, entirely random, or if they are, you shouldn’t notice that. I’ve been reading (off and on) W. Somerset Maugham’s Of Human Bondage. It’s a great book, yet one that, plotwise, I’ve yet to see really come to fruition, it seems. I suppose what I’m trying to say is, for the outstanding writing, the plot is simply standing. On the other hand, one cannot help but admire a man who can make such seemingly dull and inane and overly-touched-upon activities (going to school, trying to find oneself, growing up, religion, etc.) seem quite relevant, even about a hundred years later.

Yesterday, as I was reading, I came upon this chapter. And it nearly bowled me over with how I’ve been feeling as of late, and how in-line it was with the other things I’ve been reading. The above quote was especially hard-hitting. Sometimes in life, especially today, actually, I feel so outstandingly second-rate. I am confident that I have skills, great skills, and a wide array of them. I can write and read and edit and cook and clean and design things and knit and sew and the list goes on. But again, I cannot help but feel as though I am simply not great. I cannot do any of these tasks so well that people really take notice. I can write but I sure cannot finish a story. I can read but can’t make a living off of just that. I can edit, but I don’t have an English degree and I certainly don’t understand any proofreader’s marks. I can cook, but no better than most people. I can clean, but I don’t want to be a maid for a living. I can design things, but I cannot draw. I can knit but I cannot design patterns. I can sew (by hand), but I cannot use a sewing machine to save my life, nor do I really like to keep up with the latest fashions.

And just now, as I write (I will never learn how to focus), I am sifting through thousands of job listings, unamused. I cannot say, like many do, that “there are just no jobs out there,” because it’s a downright lie. There are plenty of jobs out there, and I’d say that I could probably perform about one third of them. That’s at least 1,300 jobs on one website alone in my area that I could apply for. However, while I can totally do the tasks required of me (Data entry! Mail sorting! Copying!), they are decidedly on the (infinite and never actually “listed”) list of Things I Do Not Want To Do.

“D’you remember my telling you about that chap I met in Brittany? I saw him the other day here. He’d just off to Tahiti. He was broke to the world. He was a brasseur d’affaires, a stockbroker I suppose you call it in English; and he had a wife and family, and he was earning a large income. He chucked it all to become a painter. He just went off and settled down in Brittany and began to paint. He hadn’t got any money and did the next best thing to starving.”

“And what about his wife and family?” asked Philip.

“Oh, he dropped them. He left them to starve on their own account.”

“It sounds like a pretty low-down thing to do.”

“Oh, my dear fellow, if you want to be a gentleman you must give up being an artist. They’ve got nothing to do with one another. You hear of men painting pot-boilers to keep and aged mother—well, it shows they’re excellent sons, but it’s no excuse for bad work. They’re only tradesmen. An artist would let his mother go to the workhouse. There’s a writer I know over here who told me that his wife died in childbirth. He was in love with her and he was mad with grief, but as he sat at the bedside watching her die he found himself making mental notes of how she looked and what she said and the things he was feeling. Gentlemanly, wasn’t it?

“But is your friend a good painter?” asked Philip.

“No, not yet, he paints just like Pissarro. He hasn’t found himself, but he’s got a sense of colour and a sense of decoration. But that isn’t the question. It’s the feeling, and that he’s got. He’s behaved like a perfect cad to his wife and children, he’s always behaving like a perfect cad; the way he treats the people who’ve helped him—and sometimes he’s been saved from starvation merely by the kindness of his friends—is simply beastly. He just happens to be a great artist.”

Philip pondered over the man who was willing to sacrifice everything, comfort, home ,money, love, honour, duty, for the sake of getting on to canvas with paint the emotion which the world gave him. It was magnificent, and yet his courage failed him.

Of course, the question now becomes, “If you know all of the things that you don’t want to do, what do you want to do?” And the answer is…

Well, I think that a lot of people in life are still searching desperately for that answer, whether they are twenty-one or sixty-one. And how does one ever find it? Maybe through trial and error. Maybe through a lot of thought (though I’ve been trying that approach for the past few years now and I’ve come up empty). Maybe you just randomly pick something and decide: THIS IS IT. THIS IS WHAT I’M DOING, SO HELP ME. AND I WILL SUCCEED. I think that has to be a part of it.

You know, as I’ve been spending all my time alternately cleaning, eating, worrying over my plants, and reading productivity blogs (Ahh, the glamorous life of the unemployed), I realize that they make it sound so easy. They say, “No, no, believe me, I know it’s hard. But here are three simple steps.” And I know that they’re right, at least partially—after all, they’re the ones with money, and I’m the one who is attending psychology experiments to get fifteen or twenty bucks.

I’m an infamous hem-hawer. Decisions are like torture. I honestly cannot even decide what to eat for dinner tonight. I’ve been thinking about it since I woke up. I haven’t quite decided what to do with my day and now it’s five PM. I can’t just pick something! What are you, nuts?!?! I know nothing will go wrong if I just pick corn on the cob and a hot dog instead of some pasta with red sauce. And still the idea of decisiveness is terrifying me. And here, something could go wrong if I make the wrong choice—I could actually end up even broker than I already am, which is to say, even more than $40,000 in debt. Not that I’ll die, or anything.

But it will be a change, and as you’d expect from an indecisive girl, I’m also quite resistant to change. Graduating was terrifying. And now that I’m used to being unemployed, the idea of actually getting a full-time (or, hell, even part-time) job is absolutely mortifying. It’s not that I won’t be able to handle sitting in an office for eight hours. I’d probably actually like it. It simply means that I won’t be doing nothing all day. And that, my friends, is quite scary, as absurd and sad as that sounds.

I know I just need to be a Man (even though, quite literally, I’m not…) and decide and just grab life by the balls. Life has many more balls than I do, in essentially every sense one could make out of that statement. I have to decide on something, before it’s too late. Before the world decides for me. But just like I’ve been waiting for it to rain all day so I don’t have to water the basil, I’ll be waiting for the answer to fall into my lap so I don’t have to make a tough choice.

“I wonder if you’d give me some advice,” said Philip suddenly.

“You won’t take it, will you?”

Philip shrugged his shoulders impatiently.

“I don’t believe I shall ever do much good as a painter. I don’t see any use in being second-rate. I’m thinking of chucking it.”

“Why shouldn’t you?”

Philip hesitated for a moment.

“I suppose I like the life.”

A changed came over Cronshaw’s placid, round face. The corners of the mouth were suddenly depressed, the eyes sunk dully in their orbits; he seemed to become strangely bowed and old.

“This?” he cried, looking round the café in which they sat. His voice really trembled a little.

“If you can get out of it, do while there’s time.”

Philip stared at him with astonishment, but the sight of emotion always made him feel shy, and he dropped his eyes. He knew that he was looking upon the tragedy of failure. There was silence. Philip thought that Cronshaw was looking upon his own life; and perhaps he considered his youth with its bright hopes and the disappointments which wore out the radiancy; the wretched monotony of pleasure, and the black future.


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22 June 2010

June 23, 2010 at 12:14 am (Uncategorized)

(An excerpt from my paper journal.)

My life is so absurdly messy.  There are clothes and crap and, frankly, bugs everywhere.  I found a worm in my pastina this morning. So I’ve been reading all these minimalist and organizational blogs and it mostly is just making me depressed.

Hand in hand with minimalism comes that whole “quit your job! blog to be rich!” mantra, as well.  An the more you read it the more you want to do it, of course.  And I have discovered/surprised myself yet again (this happens about twice a year) that I am a good, strong writer.

But the problem is that I am not particularly amazing at anything (including/especially writing) to be able to blog about it.  I know the Cal Newport logic here is to just pick one thing I am pretty good at and work to be particularly amazing at it.

I just always hesitate at that part.  What if I cannot be particularly amazing at anything?  What if I am destined to be some kind of odd semi-queen of all trades, except it’s more like the queen of all mediocrities?  Especially since grueling and dispiriting nine-to-five work provides me with a nice, comforting routine.  I was happy two summers ago to work eight to four then come home slightly exhausted then rest then eat then go for a walk or read or write and then go to bed.  I was the happiest then than I ever had been, even at the point where I was averaging four paper cuts per day.

I just need structure and routine and especially to be pried from my house with a crowbar and maybe even a meat cleaver.

Things I Could Maybe Be Good At:

  • Knitting
  • Web design
  • Writing (??)
  • Advice on being broke (real broke, not just “my dad cut off my access to his credit card” broke) in college
  • Cooking?
  • Selling body to science
  • Whining about how much I miss Italy
  • How to repel friends and detract all potential suitors
  • How to accidentally be (and attract!!) a creepy person
  • How to be an almost-alcoholic on the cheap

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